19 September 2012 – FAVOURITES: According to Chuck Marohn, a US civil engineer and prolific writer on urban development, urban sprawl is one big Ponzi scheme, based on constant growth that is not affordable.
Marohn doesn’t use the words, environment, sustainable or climate change, in his arguments – just money and finance and budgets.
Writing in Atlantic Cities, Kaid Benfield pulled together the threads to what was going on in Marohn’s body of work, which he has long admired.
“As Thoughts on Building Strong Towns makes quite clear, Chuck believes that sprawl is a Ponzi scheme and we the taxpayers are the ones left holding the empty bags,” Benfield says.
“In fact, the lead chapters of the book are devoted to the Ponzi thesis, whereby municipalities chase outward growth to find new tax revenue that proves insufficient when the infrastructure needs repair; so they chase even more new growth to pay for the previous round, over and over, until the pattern chokes the economic life out of the place.”
The revenue collected “does not come near to covering the costs of maintaining the infrastructure. In America, we have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance . . .
“We’ve done this because, as with any Ponzi scheme, new growth provides the illusion of prosperity. In the near term, revenue grows, while the corresponding maintenance obligations – which are not counted on the public balance sheet — are a generation away,” Benfield says.
“The only way to avoid the consequences, Chuck believes, is to direct growth to places with already-existing infrastructure, and in efficient form.
“The book doesn’t get environmental – that’s not Chuck’s thing, professionally – and it doesn’t get political, either. But he can be unsparing in his lacerations of his colleagues in the engineering field.”
One chapter in his book is entitled, “The Infrastructure Cult,” Benfield notes.
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